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Zinke Says Interior Must Partner With Industry to Better Understand Energy Sector Technology

With a workforce of about 70,000 employees, many of whom are older and set to retire within the next five years, Secretary Ryan Zinke said the Department of the Interior (DOI) must partner with the natural gas industry in order to get a firmer grasp of emerging technology in the energy sector.

"The DOI and this administration are not adversaries to business," Zinke said during a keynote at the World Gas Conference in Washington, DC, on Friday,. "We have to be partners. In the industry, what has occurred often times is that the regulatory framework seems to be punitive. And government, quite frankly, has a hard time catching up on emerging technology.

"Our workforce is senior. And sometimes when you're senior, you're not up to speed on emerging technology. That's not always the case, but our regulatory framework has to be partners with industry in order to look at emerging technology and safety." About 40% of DOI’s staff is slated to retire in the coming years.

Zinke also reiterated that the Trump administration's policies are designed to project global energy dominance.

"There is no doubt that producing energy under reasonable regulation is environmentally sound," Zinke said. "No one does energy better than the United States, as far as our environmental rules and regulations. But we are changing the regulatory framework itself to incorporate innovation, best science and technology in order to increase reliability, safety and environmental stewardship -- and that's a shift."

DOI was one of 12 federal agencies that pledged to expedite its review and permitting of major infrastructure projects last April. The agencies signed a memorandum of understanding to coordinate their environmental review of projects, including oil and natural gas pipelines, within a two-year timeframe.

But Zinke made no mention of a Trump administration proposal to open more than 90% of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to oil and gas exploration. A draft proposal to the OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024 is scheduled to come out this fall.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander, added that he didn't think it was morally right for the United States to go to war over energy issues.

"There's a lot of reasons to fight, but fighting for energy is not one of them -- not when energy is abundant. As a nation, I think it's morally wrong to deploy troops to fight for energy resources when we can supply the world. From an American point of view, the world is a lot safer when America is strong."

According to Zinke, DOI was also continuing to go through a major reorganization, its first in 150 years. Reorganization plans were discussed with DOI employees last January, and a proposal to move the headquarters of DOI's Bureau of Land Management from Washington, DC, to a western state was discussed with elected officials last April.

"A lot of DOI's next efforts [involve] reorganizing and being better stewards," Zinke said. "Looking at how to be better in the next 100 years takes collaboration [between] the bureaus within DOI and sister agencies -- working together in a collaborative manner where everyone has input from the beginning. DOI is going through a process of reorganizing and making sure our regions are unified."

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